Medellín struck me as a slightly-chaotic, rapidly modernizing city on the way up. The “Paisas”, as the locals call themselves, were warm, welcoming, hard-working (6 days/week is a normal work schedule) and eager to brag about the vibrant culture of their city. Medellín is also in a stunning locale, situated in a valley surrounded by verdant hills and mountains, with wispy clouds enveloping the tops of the highest peaks. Although nicknamed “The City of Eternal Spring”, it actually rained every day we were there. This rain was mostly just a drizzle though, and usually finished in an hour or two. Here’s a look at the sights we saw in our few rainy days in Medellín:
Our first night out in the city, we met our Couchsurfing host, Diomer, and were taken to a popular salsa club, Havana Son. We got our first salsa lessons from him before the crowd trickled in (it’s really not time to dance until 10:30pm in Colombia) and spent the night trying to figure out the difficult rhythm and not make total fools of ourselves. I think we did make fools of ourselves, because try as we might, we dance like gringos. I really have no rhythm. It was obvious that all the Paisas in the club had been salsa-ing since they could walk and that they lived for Friday nights out getting their groove on. It made me wish that ballroom dance was something we still learned in the US, because maybe then I wouldn’t be so inept! One Colombian girl grabbed Zach to try to teach him better, and instructed “You must hear the music!” Salsa seems second nature to Colombians, but not to us! We ended up getting another lesson the next night, with some friends of Diomer’s in their home. This time we got it a little better, so maybe there is some hope.
Pueblito Paisa is a recreation of an old, historic Paisa village situated on top of Cerro Nutibara, a guardian hill of the city. The path up the hill was great exercise and made us feel like we were actually hiking again for the first time since Colorado. The village was small and typical, but free (I don’t think you’d ever find something like that for free in the US!) and had lots of food stalls and interesting shops. Diomer suggested we try “salpicon”-a juicy 5-fruit salad in a cup with sweetened condensed milk. It was delicious and fresh! The views of Medellín from the Cerro Nutibara overlook were wonderful and great for picture-taking. Since this was our first real day out in the city, we opted to only bring the video camera instead of both. (Hence not quite awesome-quality pictures. Don’t worry, we did bust the dSLR out later.)
Medellín’s Metro system was quite impressive and useful. There are two train lines going throughout the city and 2 different Metrocables. We rode both of the Metrocables just for fun and the views. They travel up hills to farther out neighborhoods of the city. Also, the Metro only costs 1700 COP (less than $1), including unlimited transfers between train lines and Metrocables.
Parque Berrío, just off the Metro in the center of the city near the Museo de Antioquia, is an amazing spot for people-watching and soaking up culture. Every night as the sun would start setting, the park filled with musicians, vendors, and people looking to release tension from the workday. This was “tinto-time”, as we called it, because everywhere you looked were women with thermoses selling tinz plastic cups of strong, sweet coffee for about 50 cents. Guitarists and singers set up near some of the statues in the park plazing traditional music, and soon crowds gathered around them, some people dancing and some just drinking their tinto and listening. It was a relaxing, beautiful atmostphere.
Themost striking thing about Medellín is the positivity of the people. There is a tangible collective determination that despite the city’s checkered history (this is the place where Pablo Escobar, the drug/crime circle, and lots of gang warfare were centered in therecent past) things have changed and will continue to get better! The crackdown on drugs and the rapid modernization of the city has made it safer and happier. People are actually out on the street, buying things and going places, perhaps evidencing a healthier economy than the US has right now. In short, Medellín is a beautiful city, and that beauty is magnified 100 times in the people who reside there.